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Polish family beatified for sheltering Jews during World War II

This undated photo shows Polish farmer Jozef Ulma with his pregnant wife Wiktoria and their six children.
This undated photo shows Polish farmer Jozef Ulma with his pregnant wife Wiktoria and their six children. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews with AP
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The Ulma family were executed by the Nazis in 1944 for hiding Jews at their home. They were allegedly betrayed.

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In an unprecedented move, the Vatican on Sunday beatified a Polish family of nine — a married couple and their small children — who were executed by the Nazis during World War II for sheltering Jews.

During a ceremonious Mass in the village of Markowa, in southeastern Poland, papal envoy Cardinal Marcello Semeraro read out the Latin formula of the beatification of the Ulma family signed last month by Pope Francis.

In his homily, Semeraro noted that for their “gesture of hospitality and care, of mercy” the Ulmas “paid the highest price of martyrdom.”

A contemporary painting representing Jozef and a pregnant Wiktoria Ulma with their children was revealed near the altar. A procession brought relics taken from their grave to the altar. It was the first time that an entire family has been beatified.

STR/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Crowd attending a Mass in which the Vatican beatified the Polish Ulma family, including small children, who were killed by the Nazis in 1944 for having sheltered Jews.STR/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

At the Vatican, speaking to the public from a window in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said the Ulmas “represented a ray of light in the darkness” of the war and should be a model for everyone in "doing good and in the service of those in need.”

The pope then invited the crowd below to applaud the family as he clapped his hands. Those gathered in Markowa watched Francis' address on giant screens placed by the altar.

Last year, Francis pronounced the deeply Catholic Ulma family, including the child that Wiktoria Ulma was pregnant with, martyrs for the faith. 

The Ulmas were killed at home by German Nazi troops and by Nazi-controlled local police in the early hours of 24 March 1944, together with the eight Jews they were hiding at their home, after they were apparently betrayed.

Jozef Ulma, 44, was a farmer, Catholic activist and amateur photographer who documented family and village life. He lived with his 31-year-old wife Wiktoria and their six children.

Unborn baby dilemma

The Catholic Church had faced a dilemma in beatifying Wiktoria's unborn child and declaring it a martyr because, among other things, it had not been baptized, which is a requirement for beatification.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints issued a clarification, saying the child was actually born during the horror of the killings and received “baptism by blood” of its martyred mother.

Polish President Andrzej Duda along with the ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, as well as Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, attended the celebration in Markowa, and thousands of pilgrims came from across Poland to take part.

STR/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Crowd attending a Mass in which the Vatican beatified the Polish Ulma family, including small children, who were killed by the Nazis in 1944 for having sheltered Jews,.STR/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Poland's government is seeking reparations from Germany for wartime damages, but Berlin says the matter has been closed.

The Ulma beatification poses several new theological concepts about the Catholic Church’s ideas of saints and martyrs that also have implications for the anti-abortion movement because of the baby in the mother’s womb, said the Rev. Robert Gahl, a professor of ethics at the Catholic University of America and Rome’s Pontifical Holy Cross University.

After beatification, a miracle attributed to the Ulmas' intercession would be necessary for their eventual canonization, as the church’s sainthood process is called.

In Poland, they are a symbol of the bravery of thousands of Poles who took the utmost risk while helping Jews. By the occupying Nazis' decree, any assistance to Jews was punished with summary execution. A Museum of Poles Saving Jews During World War II was opened in Markowa in 2016.

Poland was the first country to be invaded by Nazi Germany, on 1 September 1939. Around 6 million of its citizens were killed during the war, half of them Jews.

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